May 15, 2013
The non-vegetarian kitchen of Raja Serfoji was well known for its rare Thanjavur style meat and seafood dishes. During the late nineteenth through early twentieth century this type of Thanjavur food was served at restaurants called “Military Hotels” in south India. These recipes used rich expensive ingredients and over time with the high cost of ingredients, many owners of such restaurants closed their establishments.
The sixty three recipes from the Non-Vegetarian Kitchen featured in Sarabhendra Pakasasthram include a wide variety of foods. This section begins with ten detailed recipes for pulavs and biranjis (biriyani). Other delicacies from Serfoji’s non-vegetarian kitchen include recipes for seven different kinds of kebabs, three kinds of kormas, meats cooked with vegetables, vegetables stuffed with meat, several meat and fish curries, stuffed sausage and pickles made of mutton and egg. Since the palace kitchen was producing a large volume of food, these recipes call for huge quantities of ingredients; one chicken pulav recipe alone calls for 25 chickens.
Thanjavur cuisine is a blend of various culinary styles. Two staples of south Indian cuisine – coconut and tamarind – are used in several recipes. Liberal use of butter, ghee and paneer, staples of Mughal cuisine, are also found in these recipes. Ingredient measurements based on the weight and measurement system prevalent in those days in Thanjavur is also given with each recipe. Tola, palam and padi are measures that are used very often; current equivalent of one tola is approximately 2.9 grams and twelve tolas make a palam. One padi equals 750 grams. Some recipes also use pound as a measure.
Following is a sampling of these recipes.
Kebab Kathayee Kabobs
This kebab is made by tenderizing rich meats with puree of delicate spices and nuts and grilled to perfection, are considered essentially a Mughal tradition. The recipes for kabobs from Raja Serfoji’s kitchen borrow heavily from the Mughal tradition; but often adding a subtle Thanjavur touch. Unlike most Mughal kebob recipes these kebob recipes do not use any garlic in them. Kebab Kathayee is a rich mutton kebab made by mixing minced meat with spices, nuts, yogurt, and Indian fresh cheese paneer and fried in ghee. Needless to say it is extremely rich.
Ingredients: 80 tolas mutton, 12 ½ tolas ginger juice, 2 tolas coriander seeds, 1/6 tola cloves, 1 tola cardamom, ¼ tola saffron, 20 tolas almonds, 10 tolas butter, 2 tolas salt, 1/3 tola pepper, 10 tolas onion, 40 tolas fresh sweet yogurt, 20 tolas paneer, 80 tolas ghee and 2 limes.
Method: Clean and was the mutton and grind into minced meat. Combine the salt, chopped onions and ginger juice and stir in 10 tolas of yogurt. Grind together coriander, cloves, cardamom, and pepper to a thick puree. Strain the remaining yogurt of all the water and mix it with peeled and ground almonds, paneer and butter. Make a paste of saffron and mix it with the yogurt mixture. Combine all of the above and mix well. Shape into small flat circular pieces and deep fry in ghee until they are golden brown in color. Remove from ghee and squeeze the juice of two limes over the kebobs and serve.
Mutton and Vegetable Kootu
Ingredients: one and a quarter pound vegetable of your choice (eggplant, bitter gourd, ribbed gourd, carrots, seeds of jackfruit or any type of fresh beans may be used), one pound of mutton cut into small pieces, ½ tola turmeric powder, 2 tolas salt, 2 tolas juice of onions, 2 tolas garlic juice, one pound of yogurt, ghee, ½ tola cinnamon, 2 tolas of tamarind juice, and milk extracted from ½ of a coconut. For the spice mix: ½ tola black pepper, 1 tola chili peppers, ½ tola coriander seeds, 1 tola dried coconut, 1 tola poppy seeds and one tola roasted chana dal.
Method: Wash and cut the vegetables into pieces. Wash the mutton pieces in water and place it in a dish and mix with salt and turmeric. Grind the spices together along with onion and garlic juices to a thick smooth puree. Mix it with the yogurt and add to the mutton pieces. Heat 2 tolas of ghee in a vessel and add cinnamon and fry till is golden red. Add more ghee as necessary, and add the marinated mutton pieces. Keep stirring and fry the mutton pieces. In another vessel put sufficient quantity of water, cover and boil. When the water is boiling well, add the fried meat pieces to it and cook until they are three fourth of the way cooked. Add the prepared vegetables to the pot and continue to cook. When the vegetables are cooked, pour in two tolas of tamarind juice. After the tamarind cooks add the coconut milk and cook over low heat until the sauce thickens. Serve with rice.
Ingredients: 2 large rive fish (varieties given are viral and padan), 2 tolas of coriander leaves, 1 ½ tolas garlic, 7 ½ tolas poppy seeds, 4 tolas salt, 22 tolas ghee, ½ tola cumin seeds, 30 red chili peppers, 9 tolas coriander seeds, ½ tola ginger, 7 ½ tola dried coconut, 15 tolas tamarind pulp, ½ tola fenugreek seeds, ½ tola mustard seeds, 20 tolas ghee and half hand full chopped onions.
Method: Wash, clean and cut the fish into pieces. Fry them in two tolas of ghee. In another pan fry red chili peppers and grind them along with coriander seeds, coriander leaves, ginger, garlic, poppy seeds, 1 tola salt and dried coconut into a thick paste. Smear the fish pieces with this paste. Boil120 tolas of water and add tamarind pulp, 3 tolas salt and half of the onions. In a frying pan heat the ghee and add the remaining onion, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds. Cover and sauté till it turns golden brown. Add the fish pieces to it and sauté. Cover and cook along with the boiled tamarind water. Remove the lid periodically and stir gently. When the fish pieces are well cooked place the pot over coal embers (I guess this means cook over low heat). When steam comes out from the pot, remove from the embers and set aside. After it has rested for a while and steam has stopped coming out, remove the lid and take out the fish pieces in a serving dish. Pour the sauce into another serving dish. Serve fish pieces and sauce while they are still hot.
Recipes from the Vegetarian Kitchen will follow in the next segment.
Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994
Rao Sahib, A. Krishnaswami Mahadik. Sarabhendra Pakasasthram, Saraswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur
Chakravarthy, Pradeep. Thanjavur a Cultural History, Niyogi Books, New Delhi, India, 2010